How to play a golf scramble

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We take a look at the golf scramble, a fun alternative to the more formal formats of the game.

Golf is a game that teases greatness but generally leaves those pursuing it disappointed. The sport’s soaring highs and crushing lows usually average out to rounds that are at best mediocre, and more often than not, quite dreadful.

Even if you are one of the sport’s best, you can still count on getting kicked around occasionally with a double bogey or three poisoning your card. Is there a way around all this turmoil? Traditionally, no. Well, yes. Practice. But practice takes a whole lot of time and money. What if I told you that you can have a score card with your name, and an even par 72 on it tomorrow?

While what we are talking about here is not quite as impressive as what the ladies and gentlemen of golf’s professional tours are doing, it can still be an exciting and good time. I’m talking, of course, about the golf scramble. What is a golf scramble? Read on to find out!

Ok, so what is a golf scramble?

The scramble is a unique golf format in which 2 – 4 players record one single score throughout the course of a round. Though not a format that is officially regulated by the USGA, scrambles are very popular for league play, tournaments, and even casual weekend rounds with friends.

How does it work? It’s actually very simple. All the members of your group will tee off as usual, and once everyone has hit, you as a group will determine which drive was best. Depending on the dynamic of your group, the best shot might be the one that got cooked 310 down the fairway, or it might just be the shot that didn’t find the woods.

You can also use this as an opportunity to get a little strategic. Sometimes the longest shot isn’t necessarily the best one, and in certain situations, it may also be best to consider which ball has the best angle at the green.

Regardless of how you go about deciding which is the best ball, once you do determine it, everyone in your group will pick up their shots from earlier, and drop them from the ideal spot. This process repeats until the ball is in the cup and then carries over to the next hole.

Only the best shots get factored into your score, which is why even struggling golfers can shoot a par round in a scramble.

Why scramble?

Why scramble? Well mostly because it’s fun. Keep in mind that the scramble is not the most serious of formats, and it’s certainly not one you will ever see on the PGA or LPGA tours. It’s simply a nice way to have a little bit of lighthearted fun with your buddies on a Saturday loop, or charity tournament.

You’re not usually going to find players bragging about what their group shot during a scramble but there nevertheless is a sense of satisfaction towards carding a decent score. Just remember to have fun, and refrain from taking it too seriously. A good score in a scramble certainly won’t be winning you the Masters, and in fact, it can’t even be counted towards your handicap.

Plain and simple, the scramble is for having fun.

Scramble handicaps

As I have said, the USGA does not concern itself with the scramble format in any official capacity, meaning there arent any steadfast rules at work in determining the configuration of groups.

A lot of the time your group is going to consist of whoever you sign up with, but for whatever it is worth, the USGA does have some recommendations regarding player handicaps that some tournaments may use to determine who you play with.

They suggest that each group consists of an A player (very good), B player (good), C player (average), and D player (below average). The idea at work here, of course, is to ensure that each group is stacked fairly.

That said, since most people want to play with their friends in scrambles, most tournaments will simply allow you to partner with whoever you wish.

Rule variations

Since the scramble is not a format recognized in any official capacity by golf’s governing body (the USGA) there is no one official set of rules determining how they are played. Rules may vary from tournament to tournament or group to group, but generally speaking, the format is going to look a lot like the one I described above.

That said, there are a few common distinctions you will see in different regions that are worth taking a further look.

Texas scramble

The Texas Scramble is a lot like the format described above with a twist that I find to be a lot of fun. In the Texas Scramble, every member of the group is required to contribute at least four drives to the game.

What does that mean? It means that even if someone in your group is absolutely terrible off the tee, you are going to need to choose their drives at least four times per round.

Personally, I am a big fan of this format for the fact that I think it fixes the fatal flaw of typical scramble play. If you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself in the same group as an ace player you’re going to end up with a great score, but also not a lot to do. The scratch golfer will end up dominating the round, and most if not all of your shots will go unused.

In the Texas Scramble, everyone needs to be on their A-game. Personally, I think it makes the rounds a little more strategically demanding, which is how I prefer the game be.

Florida scramble

The Florida Scramble is another variation of typical rules that are designed to ensure that every player contributes. In this case, the player whose last shot was selected is not allowed to hit on the next shot.

Of course, the purpose of this twist is again to ensure that one player isn’t contributing all of the shots.

Miami scramble

The Miami Scramble is very similar to the Florida Scramble. In this version, the player whose drive is selected is not allowed to hit again until the group reaches the green.

Reverse scramble

The reverse scramble is a somewhat ludicrous and uncommon format, but it can also be a good time. In the Reverse Scramble, groups are going to play from their worst shots. Obviously, this format is going to take the longest, which is why you won’t typically find it in tournament play, but it is fun.

Strategy

Strategy is fairly simple when it comes to the scramble if you are able to forgo the idea that the best drives are the longest ones, and the best approach shots are the ones closest to the hole.

We touched on this a little bit already, so I won’t go too in-depth here, but just take a close look at all the balls spread out on the course, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble determining which has the best position.

Here is a list of a few basic things to keep in mind as you play your scramble round.

Full swings are better than half swings

This is where the advice “long drives aren’t always the best drives” comes into play. I think many players will agree that hitting a full wedge, one hundred yards out can often times be easier than trying to saw off a half swing from sixty yards away.

Straight putts are easier than short putts

A three-foot putt with three feet of break is going to be a lot more challenging than a straightforward five-footer.

Never hit from the trap

Sand traps are score killers even for really good players, but in scrambles there really isn’t a reason to ever hit from one (except, I suppose, in the very unfortunate situation in which every single player has found the beach).

Regardless of how nice the angle at the hole is, I would recommend opting out of the bunker shot at all costs.

Never hit from the rough either

I think that if you are in a foursome made up of decent players it is a very realistic goal to never have to hit from the rough. Just remember that while it can be tempting to grip it and rip it, you’re going to be much better off playing with the same strategy that you always do.

Don’t assume your playing partners will hit the fairway. Focus on accuracy rather than distance, same as would any other round.

Conclusion

As you can see, the golf scramble, in all its forms is a relatively loose format, which is nice in a game that is generally anything but loose.

You don’t play in a scramble to win trophies. You play them to have fun with your friends and get the chance to card a low score. If you have never played in one before I recommend you sign up for a tournament or league that utilizes the format.

If that isn’t an option, get a few buddies together next time you go out, and have your own makeshift scramble. I’m betting that you will enjoy the opportunity to have all the fun of golf without any of the pressure.

Good luck on the course!